How to Make Your High-Maintenance Reps Your Top Performers

By Heather Baldwin

There’s one on almost every sales team: an employee who is demanding, uncooperative, uncompromising and arrogant. They’re tough to work with and tough to manage. And if you’ve got such an employee in your sales organization, Katherine Graham Leviss has one thing to say to you: Lucky you. That’s right. Leviss, president of XB Coaching and author of High-Maintenance Employees (Sourcebooks, 2005) says you’re lucky because these high-maintenance employees can be your most creative, driven, innovative and top-performing workers. The key is to manage them correctly. How? Create an environment with these characteristics:

1. Freedom to operate. High-maintenance, high-performing (HMHP) employees will thrive in an environment where there is little structure. They are motivated by achievement and thus, if given the freedom to choose how to accomplish their goals, Leviss says they will often find faster, more efficient, higher quality ways of getting things done. In cases where there must be some structure, give your HMHPs options for operating within that structure.

2. Freedom to lead. High-maintenance employees like to have control. They like to lead and direct, so give them the freedom to run their own projects. "Allow them to execute their own ideas for moving projects forward," says Leviss. "These people are your drivers. Let them drive and you will see the results."

3. Availability of new opportunities and challenges. As an HMHP’s current project winds down, make sure you have another project waiting for him or her. Or give your HMHP the task of creating a new one. The ongoing string of new challenges will fuel your HMHPs and prevent boredom from setting in.

4. Opportunity to advance. HMHPs look for opportunities to continually advance. They get bored easily, so it’s important to create a plan for them to continually move forward in their careers. "Discuss with them the experience, the behaviors, and the results they need to help them grow within your department or organization," says Leviss. "Then create jobs and career paths that keep them challenged."

5. Recognition of achievements and contributions. High-maintenance employees enjoy being told that they have done exceptional work. They like to feel they are leading the pack through their own accomplishments. It is thus important to make employee recognition a strong part of your company culture. And the day-to-day thanks and verbal notices you give an HMHP are just as important as the recognition he receives at a formal award ceremony.

"High-maintenance employees simply don’t leave jobs where they feel challenged, have exciting work to do, are rewarded appropriately and feel their contributions matter," says Leviss. So create the right environment and the person you thought was a headache to manage will thrive and become your best performer.

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